The new insistence on religious identity permitted the development of an identity based essentially on community. This new communitarian identity, which remains too often unrecognised, is of crucial importance for the correct understanding of the religious dynamics between Christians and Jews in late antiquity. Indeed, despite the deep differences between minority (the Jews) and majority (the Christians), the relationships between the two groups were based upon their common self-understanding as religious communities. While the religious elites worked on building and maintaining the boundaries of the communities, autonomous and self-enclosed, these boundaries were constantly eroded by daily intercourse.

The radically new status of Christianity in the fourth century was not quite unparalleled in Judaism, in the sense that only then did the rabbinic movement succeed in imposing its view of things on the great majority ofJews. Until then, it seems that the Jewish public was much more amorphous in its beliefs and attitudes than would eventually become the case, often harbouring syncretistic beliefs that did not square well with the theology of the rabbis.16

Some scholars, in particular Jacob Neusner, following Rosemary Radford Ruether and himself followed by Daniel Boyarin, have noticed that only in the fourth century did Jews and Christians come into possession, for the first time, of clear-cut identities; hence, forNeusner, the historical meetingbetween Judaism and Christianity occurred in the fourth century.17 To Neusner's analysis, one should add the contemporary emergence of both Jewish and Christian intellectual culture, the former bilingual in nature (Hebrew and Aramaic, both in Palestine and in Mesopotamia), the latter expressed in a plurality of languages (at least Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Persian). It is the combination of these two factors that explains the power of the new dynamics between Jews and Christians.

Structural comparison of Judaism and Christianity

Fourth-century Judaism and Christianity were religions that had undergone some deep transformations. They were in their essence sacrificial religions, but of a special kind, since no sacrifice actually took place. Structurally, these religions were of course vastly different, due to the absence of priests and monks amongtheJews. As a consequence ofthis state of affairs, the synagogue, or beit ha-midrash, became a centre of polyvalent ('interdisciplinary') cultural

16 See S. Schwartz, 'Rabbinisation in the sixth century'.

17 See J. Neusner, Judaism and Christianity in the age of Constantine and D. Boyarin, Dyingfor God.

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